Battle of the bacteria: Studying the causes of and protectors against premature birth

Seven types of bacteria and certain immune factors in a woman’s vagina and cervix may be responsible for increasing the risk of spontaneous preterm birth or protecting against it, according to a new study from the Perelman School of Medicine and the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Results of the study provide groundbreaking information that the authors suggest could help physicians better predict preterm birth, especially for African American women early in pregnancy. The study, published in Nature Communications, will allow for the development of new research targeting “bad” bacteria or increasing “protective” bacteria.

“The results of this study give us a break we’ve been working toward for many years. Previous research suggested that the cervical vaginal microbiome is different in women who experience preterm birth but those studies had small numbers of women and were not conclusive. With this large cohort, for the first time, we’re actually able to show the ‘specific microbial signatures’ that are involved in preterm birth,” says lead author Michal Elovitz, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Penn Medicine and principal investigator of this study. Elovitz is also a co-investigator for the March of Dimes’ Prematurity Research Center at Penn, which helps to support other mechanistic studies on the vaginal microbiome and preterm birth.

Read more at Penn Medicine News.